I don’t have a formula for creating characters. That sounds more like algebra than fiction writing and I never was any good at math. My characters are who they are because of a lyric in a song, or because of a conversation I overheard in the parking lot of the bowling alley, or I ate a sandwich that made me think of a restaurant I visited once and about the waiter with the green eyes.
While I’m out on a walk through an old neighborhood with overgrown shaded lots, a glimpse a man standing in the woods. He’s real. Probably standing in his own backyard. I wonder who he is and why he’s there.
There is dog hair piled up under the bar stools in our kitchen. I push and pull the vacuum, trying to get at the mess. I look out the window and see a deer standing alert at the sound. How long has he been watching me? His white tail flickers and then I see the man standing in the woods. This time he is just a memory of the man I saw before and now he has a dog with him. Did his dog leave this hair on my kitchen floor? No, this hair belongs to my dog. It’s a mix of white and brown. His dog is what? Dark, black with some white on the chest. Her chest. She’s a herding dog, low to the ground. What does he call her?
The man appears in the passenger seat of my car while I drive to pick up my kids. He is neatly dressed in a style of clothes I’ve seen in black and white photographs. He nods his head as I safely make my way through a busy intersection. He cares about these things. I notice his hands. They are rough and dry. They look older than his face. He is older than I am but not as old as my father. What year was he born? And where?
He smells like pine trees and soap.
He is crying now. I ask him why, but he can’t tell me yet. He does tell me his name. Joseph.
Where is your dog, Joseph?
Joseph, tell me what you want.
I’m walking up an aisle in the library, browsing the titles and accidentally bump into an older lady. Excuse me, and so forth and as I watch her walk away, I wonder if that’s what Joseph’s mother looked like, dressed like. She is wearing comfortable shoes. And what was she like? Did she ever tell him how much she loved him or was she afraid? Joseph has a hard time with the word love.
My brother loved lemon cookies. Why is lemon the fresh kitchen smell? Lemons were a treat for Joseph growing up. Joseph is small, bright blonde hair like a spotlight running down a row of lettuce heads with an lemon in his hand. Did he steal it? Is that his father’s arms outstretched, reaching for the lemon or for Joseph? The music I am listening to has a crescendo toward the end, a foreboding sound. There is a snake hidden under the green leaves, growing more agitated as the vibrations in the ground become stronger, the child and man coming closer.
And as I see that boy jump over the snake, thank God. I see the boy look back at his father. He drops his lemon. I look into the boy’s eyes, and they are the green eyes of the waiter from the restaurant.
Joseph’s father dies from a snake bite. Joseph grows up with two holes in his heart, one for the loss of his father and one for his mother’s loss of her love, just like the bite in his father’s skin.